While we are used to cruise clients cancelling their plans, it’s not as prevalent for suppliers to cancel. When a client cancels, it often has a financial impact on us due to loss of commission. In most cases where the cruise lines cancel a sailing they will protect our commissions. However, the future cruise credit they give to clients may lead to low or no commission on the future booking. Commission aside, what else are we faced with?
The question comes up in the light of several recent cancellations. Fathom Cruises had to cancel their inaugural cruise to the Dominican Republic due to issues with Coast Guard inspections. There were revenue passengers involved, but many of the affected passengers were actually travel professionals and members of the media and blogosphere. Only one sailing was cancelled, and with the low number of revenue passengers, travel professionals were not overwhelmingly impacted.
Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas, on the other hand, has been a nightmare on steroids for some travel professionals. Royal Caribbean initially cancelled the first six sailings of the Empress (from March 30 through April 21), but this week announced they are cancelling another 5 sailings (May 5 through May 23). In Royal Caribbean’s statement about the cancellations, they included the following:
Royal Caribbean International will provide guests with a full refund of their cruise fare paid. Cruise fare refunds will be automatically processed back to the original form of payment.
Also, in recognition of the impact these cancellations have had on your clients’ vacation, we will be providing them with a future cruise certificate for 100% of the cruise fare paid.
If your guest booked air transportation through Royal Caribbean International, and transfer to another sailing, they will receive modified flights at no cost. Guests that did not purchase air through Royal may receive air change fees up to $200 per person reimbursed by submitting receipts
While they are taking care of passengers and travel professionals financially, we face other issues. Clients have been looking forward to their cruise, and it’s abruptly cancelled. Even with a full refund it is still extremely disappointing. While most clients are usually understanding and flexible, that is not always the case. Some clients lash out at their travel agents and blame them just as much as they blame the cruise line. What can a travel professional do to head this off at the pass?
Advice, Disclosure and Waivers
To protect ourselves from liability caused by suppliers’ actions, we need to be vigilant in advising, disposing, and getting signed waivers. In the laundry list of items that you already included in your disclosures, consider adding a paragraph about possible cancellations by suppliers. When booking clients, but especially on an itinerary that may be at a higher risk of supplier cancellation such as an inaugural sailing or immediately following dry-dock for example, you should also address the topic with your clients. When doing so, give examples of why a cruise may be cancelled. However, when advising clients, never make promises that you personally cannot enforce. For example, do not mention cruise refunds, future cruise credits, or airfare refunds in any fashion. As an example, in the event of a cancellation if the cruise line does not offer a future cruise credit, clients may come back to you and expect you to fulfill that expectation.
Whatever you may tell a client verbally or provide in the form of a written disclosure, get written/signed acknowledgment from your clients. They will conveniently forget pertinent information that your gave them, and try to shift any blame your way. With the signed acknowledgment of information that you have provided, you are better protected.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209.